Chicago White Sox outfielder Alex Rios packed his bags and prepared to make the long trip from Arizona to Florida for the World Baseball Classic. A veteran of the tournament, Rios will be making his third appearance for team Puerto Rico.
“I take great pride in playing for Puerto Rico and against the best international players in the world," Rios said as he left the White Sox spring training facility in Glendale, Ariz.
Rios left with the blessings of the organization he posted big numbers for in 2012. The 32-year-old right fielder had a great comeback campaign, adding 77 points on his .227 average of 2011. Coming off a solid season made the WBC choice a no-brainer.
“This is a big deal in Puerto Rico," he said. “Actually, the whole thing seems big everywhere except in the U.S. I can understand that. In this country, people get to see the best players in the world every day during the baseball season. In these other places, it happens only once every three or four years.
“The people in Puerto Rico go crazy for this event. They love baseball, and we as players are treated in a very special way.”
The 2012 season also established Rios as a fan favorite. The Sox fan base was suspicious of Rios because of a few inconsistent seasons after he was picked up on waivers in August 2009 with $60 million left on his contract.
“I can understand how the fans felt. They really did not know me or my game, and I did stumble at times," he said. "Last year was very enjoyable except for the final few weeks when we gave up the division lead."
Rios set career highs in batting average (.304), home runs (25) and RBIs (91) last season. He was the Sox nominee for the prestigious Hank Aaron Award, presented to the outstanding offensive performer in each league. Rios finished the 2012 season ranked in the top 10 of seven offensive categories in the American League.
“I am approaching this season the same way as last year," Rios said “With more experience for some of our younger players, we should be even more competitive this year."